“For some of us, books are as important
as almost anything on earth”
~ Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird
Sometimes life leaps along and our regular endeavours get overtaken by events. Other times we just forget about things. Such is the case with my monthly reading review post for June – it completely slipped my mind. I’m not quite sure where the time has gone over the last few weeks and here we are at the beginning of August already.
Happily, I have not been too busy to read. Since my May reading post, I have finished an amazing ten books, and have started various others, as is my wont. I have not, after all, stuck to the planned reading as set out in that last post. One of the things I love about books is the journey that one unexpectedly takes, both while spending time with a particular book, and then allowing oneself capriciously to be taken in whatever direction that book subsequently inspires.
As a result, I have had the most wonderful run of fabulous books, many of which I would not necessarily have looked for in the first place, which makes the experience all the more delightful. In addition, one of my particular reading motivations at the moment is getting ready for the six events I am attending at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival.
There will be more on this as we go through this bumper, two-month crop of reviews:
Bird By Bird: Some Instructions On Writing And Life (Anne Lamott): witty; irreverent; wise
I have long wanted to read this book. I enjoy reading about the process of writing. Lamott pours out all she knows on this subject. Yet the book offers so much more. For ‘writing’, you can insert any creative endeavour. You can even view her narrative as a philosophy for life. It was an excellent follow-on from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, with many of the same messages: find your own voice; don’t write for any reason other than because you want to; and above all, get on with it.
Read this if you love: being inspired to discover more about yourself.
Writing In An Age Of Silence (Sara Paretsky): thoughtful; thought-provoking; brave
This book caught my eye as part of a display in my local library promoting ‘stories behind stories’. I am so glad to have picked it up. Paretsky has written a part-memoir, part-meditation on civil liberties (or the lack thereof) in the United States of America. She unflinchingly tackles issues concerning race, religion and gender, with an overall theme of the importance of creating space for people with no voice to speak out. Published in 2007, it paints a very sorry state of affairs and one would hope that things might have improved in 10 years. Regrettably, incidents like the recent shootings in Orlando suggest otherwise. While reading this book, I realised that I have unread on my shelves Paretsky’s first novel, Indemnity Only. I cannot remember how it came to be in my collection and note that it was published in 1990. Have I really had this book for 26 years without noticing? Paretsky includes in her memoir her views on the demise of the publishing industry and wonders whether her first novel would these days be published. I’m now looking forward to engaging fiction-wise with this multi-award-winning writer.
Read this if you love: straight talking about civil liberties and how one’s background and beliefs can help to inspire one’s craft.
The Revenant (Michael Punke): brutal; fascinating; lively
Another book promoted by my local library, I was intrigued to read the story on which the recent Leonardo Di Caprio film was based (and which I have not yet seen). I was interested to learn that the book itself was inspired by a true story and I became instantly drawn in by the plight of lead character (and real-life fur trapper) Hugh Glass who finds himself brutally attacked by a grizzly bear deep in the American wilderness of the 1820s. Punke’s pacey writing makes this a relatively quick read, but he does not skimp on detail or description, which invoke in his narrative all the senses and a clear impression of what life must have been like for individuals and society of the time.
Read this if you love: immersing yourself in history, nature and the realities of times gone by
Rising Strong (Brené Brown): inspirational; practical; insightful
I have written in this blog before about how much I admire Brown’s work, and am inspired by it (check out previous posts here and here). Rising Strong is the third awesome book of hers that I have read and I am still dipping back into it for support, ideas and motivation. All three books examine ways to lead what Brown calls ‘a wholehearted life’. She defines wholehearted living as ‘engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness [and] cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough‘ (Rising Strong p. xix). Her first book, The Gifts of Imperfection, looks at ‘how to be you’. Daring Greatly deals with being ‘all in’ in your life. And Rising Strong helps to deal with the inevitability that if you lead an ‘all in’ life, fully committed and completely showing up, you will fall. Brown takes us through various strategies, learning and tools to help us get back up and try again.
Read this if you love: having a mental cheerleader in your corner helping you to be brave and lead your best life.
The Light Between Oceans (M L Stedman): emotional; beautiful; mesmerising
Why are lighthouses and stories about them so captivating? I was amazed to see how many books based around lighthouses there are – check out this Goodreads list, for example. One of my favourites is Jeanette Winterson’s Lighthousekeeping. And this month, I have read The Light Between Oceans – a book that literally had me weeping by the end. This novel is beautifully written, with wonderfully-drawn characters and a memorable plot.
Read this if you love: stories about what happens when good people make bad decisions.
Let Me Tell You About A Man I Knew (Susan Fletcher): moving; powerful; painterly
This is quite possibly one of the best books I have ever read. Fletcher writes about Vincent Van Gogh’s time in the asylum at St Remy in the South of France, towards the end of his life. The story is told through the eyes of the wife of the institution’s warden. Her narrative is beautifully crafted – the text is like a written version of a painting, so evocative is it of the characters’ quiet country lives, and the impact of various dramas, both small and large. I am not prone to sobbing over books, but this was the second one this month to set me off. When I read the last few pages on a train between Glasgow and Edinburgh, the tears rolled freely down my cheeks – I am not sure what the other passengers thought was going on! After gathering my breath, which had been well and truly taken away by the power of Fletcher’s writing, all I could do upon arrival was rush to the nearest bookshop to buy a copy of Van Gogh’s letters, and another book by Fletcher. She is one of the authors I am due to see at the book festival – I can’t wait.
Read this if you love: stories that paint the most beautiful pictures about fascinating characters.
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats (Jan-Philippe Sendker): poignant; tender; romantic
I don’t usually pick up romance novels, but the premise of this book grabbed me while I was browsing in the library. A father disappears one day in New York. His daughter comes across a letter which might help explain where he has gone. She resolves to try to find him, ending up in his native Burma. It was a light read, but nonetheless engaging.
Read this if you love: unusual stories about the human condition.
How To Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers (Toni Bernhard): illuminating; informed; useful
As a chronic migraine sufferer, I was fascinated by the title of this book. I am not a Buddhist, but read in ‘the blurb’ that Bernhard’s wisdom could be useful for anyone. And so it is. Bernhard writes from personal experience of a devastating illness, passing on ideas and strategies for managing oneself and one’s life when a condition impacts significantly on day to day activities. I have found that I am already drawing on some parts of the book to help me with my life in general, and not just in relation to illness. This text is something to which I know I will return again and again.
Read this if you love: books that provide practical support during difficult times, whatever they may be.
The Miniaturist (Jessie Burton): intriguing; frustrating; unsatisfying
I read this book because Burton is another author whom I will be seeing at the book festival. There, she will be promoting her new book The Muse. But as I had not even read her best-selling debut, I thought I should catch up. Burton writes very well and the narrative is engaging. However, there were certain key aspects of the plot which were left unexplored or unexplained. Sometimes, the premise ‘leave them wanting more’ works really well but in this case, it simply led to hollow disappointment.
Read this if you love: interesting stories where the plot lines are not necessarily fully resolved.
Meditations (Marcus Aurelius): unrivaled; shrewd; humble
If I was restricted to going through life with only one book, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations would be a brilliant option. It is a stunning work of spiritual and ethical reflection. One cannot fail to be inspired by the powerful and surprisingly modern wisdom throughout. It is also an intriguing commentary on life as a Roman Emperor – and what could be more fascinating? Marcus did not write with a view to publication, so we get a unique and privileged view of his inner-most thoughts. And I must also highlight the quality of the translation and accompanying Introduction in the edition I read – by Gregory Hays. He writes accessibly and comprehensively about the times in which Marcus lived; the nature of stoicism, which Marcus followed keenly; and key figures who inspired him.
Read this if you love: Roman history; reading about brilliant yet very human historical figures; and gathering advice about common life problems.
So there you have it. I am looking forward to more weeks of reading immersion, not least linked to trips to Edinburgh’s glorious book festival. I’ll report back at the end of August. Meanwhile, as ever, if you have any must-know reading tips and recommendations you would like to pass on, they are always happily received. 🙂